In 1985, in a bid to outperform Pepsi, its biggest rival, Coca-Cola changed its almost 100-year old secret formula and introduced what it called “New Coke.” The beverage company said the new product would be smoother and sweeter. Everyone anticipated the product with enthusiasm, but it turned out to be a big disappointment. Only 13 percent of soda drinkers liked New Coke. There was outrage—Coke drinkers launched grassroots campaigns demanding that the original Coke be brought back. The company had no choice but to succumb.
What did Coca-Cola do wrongly? They failed in their change control process.
What is change control?
Indeed, change is constant, but is it always necessary? This is the fundamental question that drives change control. Change control checks, among other factors, the need to make changes to a product. Coca-Cola, obsessed with being ahead of the competition, failed to check if changing their formula was needed at that time. It was a mistake capable of plummeting them down the soda food chain. Thankfully, they had loyal drinkers who stopped at nothing till they got their favorite drink back.
Change control is rooted in change management. It begins with identifying what needs to be changed and the resources and individuals to facilitate the change. But beyond identifying what needs to be changed, it is also important to evaluate why it needs to be changed. This is the core of the change control process. Once your reason for the change is faulty, the change process becomes faulty too.
There are key elements required for a successful change control process. These elements as outlined by Prosci.com include: (1) Readiness assessments, (2) Communication and communication planning, (3) Resistance management, (4) Data collection, feedback analysis, and corrective action (5) Celebrating and recognizing success.
Readiness assessments evaluate the company’s readiness to change. It provides insight into the challenges and opportunities the change may bring. These assessments also evaluate the scope of the change—the size of the change, the parties affected, and the severity of the change. Evaluating the scope of change comes under risk assessment, as we would see later in this article.
Prosci.com stated that communication and communication planning involves continuous communication with the company’s team. But I would like to add that it also involves communication with the stakeholders or consumers that would be directly affected by the change. Coca-Cola would have communicated the change with its employees, but not its consumers. Communicating with the consumers may have prevented the marketing disaster that took place. Like evaluating the scope of change, interacting or communicating with stakeholders is also a part of risk assessment.
Resistance to change can come from different quarters, including from your employees. While you can easily manage employees’ resistance, stakeholders or consumers’ resistance can be difficult to handle. This is why it is best to involve them in the change process before implementing the change. By involving them in the process, you receive feedback and take steps towards corrective action. Coca-Cola did not involve its consumers in their process, however, they listened to feedback and took corrective action: bringing back the old formula.
In an event where the change is successful, it is expedient that the success is celebrated as it helps reinforce the change. But celebrating does not mean relaxing. A necessary change can birth another necessary change. Apart from celebrating successes, failures, if any, should be recognized and evaluated. Find out why the change failed. Find out if it was unnecessary. And seek measures to avoid another failure.
These elements provide a framework for managing change. Change control processes ensure that a proposed change is adequately defined, reviewed, and approved before implementation. Duncan Haughey pointed out that this ensures the efficient use of resources and prevents changes that might disrupt services. Change control is usually a five-step process. It starts from (1) proposing a change, then (2) summarizing its impact, then (3) taking a decision before (4) implementing the change, and (5) closing the change.
Scott Matteson stated that change control utilizes a standard method to apply change to critical environments to avoid risks. The amalgamation of Haughey and Matteson’s ideas on evaluating the impact and risk of change forms the bedrock of change control.
The New Coke story can be summed up in Nayab’s words: “Change initiatives fail when the change does not achieve its intended objectives, do not deliver the promised results, sacrifice quality, use more resources, or remain bogged down by delays.” This is why change control risk assessment is important.
The risk assessment of change control identifies, analyzes, understands, manages, and reports on the risks of a particular change. Every change program is unique, and a change program can be high, moderate, or low risk. This implies that the risk assessment for change program A will be different from change program B.
Steps to carrying risk assessment of change
1. Before performing a risk assessment of change, it is important to know common risks that could impact change programs. Some of them include high levels of resistance, lack of awareness or desire to support change, uncertainty, ambiguity about project milestones, etc.
Going back to our New Coke story, did Coca-Cola identify risks that their change could face, especially resistance and lack of awareness to support change? The company blindly launched its change, confident in the fact that the consumers would like it. A risk assessment would have led them to ask pertinent questions and determine the scope of the assessment.
2. Establish the scope of the assessment. The scope of the assessment falls into three groups: (1) items that remain the same after the change, (2) items that are bound to change, and (3) items that could go either way. The first group do not change because they are integral to the business process. Examples include patents, machinery, and capital assets. They do not pose any risk during the change control process. Components of the second group are bound to change because they add no value to the business process. Examples are outdated products and redundant processes or services. 1. Replacing or eliminating these components reduces expenses and/or increases revenue. Items in the last group form the major scope of risk assessment. They are the gray area; they make risk assessment necessary to determine if a change poses any risk.
The old Coke formula was—and is still—integral to Coca-Cola’s business process. It is said that the formula is so important to the company that they branded it a trade secret instead of patenting, because getting a patent would mean disclosing the ingredient. This tells how integral the formula is to the business process of the company. It was inappropriate to tamper with such a delicate part of the company. A proper risk assessment would have given the company other ideas for outshining their competition instead of tampering with the core of their unique selling point.
3. Perform the assessment. Nayab noted that the first step to risk assessment is gathering information from every possible source and analyzing the information using all possible resources. The factors to consider during the assessment include but are not limited to: readiness and availability of technology, data quality and integrity, budget requirements, extent of human resources readiness, impact on human resource competencies and attitudes, impact on business operations, extent of customer acceptance, etc.Methods used for risk assessment are: statistical probability analysis, benchmarking, interview with stakeholders, and conceptualization through lateral thinking.
Coca-Cola failed to gather information from all sources available. They acted on risky presumption. They did not consider the extent of customers’ acceptance, neither did they consult or interview stakeholders. They failed to assess the impact their innovation would have on the company, its consumers, and its competition.
Here, you evaluate the impact of the change on the product, the organization, and its stakeholders. You have to evaluate who will be impacted by the change, how they will be impacted and the severity of the impact. 
The assessment evaluates the proposed change to identify components to be created, modified, or discarded, and also to estimate the effort associated with implementing the change. Wiegers made a striking point regarding the importance of impact assessment. He wrote: “Skipping impact analysis doesn’t change the size of the task. It just turns the size into a surprise. In product, development surprises are rarely good news. Before a developer says, “Sure, no problem” in response to a change request, he or she should spend a little time on impact analysis.”
Wiegers’s words are in line with the New Coke story. Not only did Coca-Cola skip risk assessment, they also skipped impact assessment. They thought that the change to the formula would only affect the company’s revenue and keep them ahead of the competition. If they had carried out an impact assessment, they would have probably considered how the formula would affect their consumers and the severity of the impact. Their failure at impact assessment sprung up a surprise—bad news. Luckily, they did not pay so dearly for it.
Steps to carrying impact assessment of change
1. Evaluate the possible outcomes of the change. Wieger noted that change often produces a ripple effect. This effect may be good or bad. If Coca-Cola’s innovation was met with positive reviews, it would have increased its market share, increased revenue, and placed them far ahead of Pepsi. They would have had happy consumers and nervous competitors. But this was not the case. Its bad reviews lowered its market share, agitated its consumers, and kept its competitors happy. Pepsi capitalized on the blunder to launch a commercial featuring a girl who mocked Coca-Cola with the question: “Somebody out there tell me why Coke did it? Why did Coke change?” Coca-Cola wanted a sweeter and smoother soda, but they failed to understand that “stuffing too much functionality into a product can reduce its performance to unacceptable levels.”
2. Identify all that needs to be modified (including files, models, and documents) to implement the requested change.
3. Identify the tasks required and estimate the effort needed to implement the change.
Nature is governed by its own laws outside human control, thus the laws of nature can change as they please. We can do nothing about it. However, you are in total control of your business and its products. For your business to grow, change must take place. But are all changes necessary? Some are never necessary, while others can come later. You can only determine when a change is necessary through a proper change control process.
Use this process to evaluate the risk and impact of the change. Have foresight. Understand that the risk and impact of the change go beyond you or your team; your customers are also impacted. Remember that a wrong change can give your competition an upper hand, which defeats the aim of the whole process. Evaluate the necessity of the change so you don’t end losing your uniqueness in the process.
 Ut supra, 1
 Ut supra, 15
 “Best Organizational Change Impact Assessment (Cia) & Analysis Guide.”
 Karl Wiegers. “Best Practices for Change Impact Analysis.”
 Ut supra, 7
 “Trade Secrets: 10 of the Most Famous Examples.” Vethan Law Firm, P. C., 11 August 2016.
 Ogbe Airiodion. “Most Popular Change Risks & The Best Change Management Risk Assessments To Perform.”
 Nayab, N. “How to Perform Change Management Risk Assessment.”
 Scott Matteson. “10 essential elements of change control management.”
 Duncan Haughey. “What Is Change Control?” Project Smart, 11 October 2011.
 “8 Elements of an Effective Change Management Process.” Smart Sheet,
 “Change Management Process.”
 Rachid Haoues. “30 years ago today, Coca-Cola made its worst mistake.” CBS News, 23 April 2015.